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Province says passenger rail still an option for Northern Ontario

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HUNTSVILLE, ON- In the wake of Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet shuffle, the province’s commitment to the consideration of passenger rail through Muskoka remains unchanged.

That’s according to a pair of statements from the office of Rod Phillips, the province’s new Minister of Finance, and Greg Rickford, the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs Ontario.

The former Minister of Finance, Vic Fedeli, had been a booster for the return of the Northlander, the passenger train that used to run from Toronto to North Bay and points beyond.

A promise to return the train had been made by Fedeli, which encouraged advocates of the service, and a business case is reportedly in development by Ontario Northland.

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The newsroom reached out to Phillip’s office after the cabinet shuffle to check on the state of commitment to the Northlander’s return by the new minister.

“Our commitment remains to open Ontario up for business and improve transportation across the province,” read the statement, issued by Phillips’ office.

“People in the north need to be able to travel reliably around the province and we will support ways to expand transportation services to Northern Ontario for both passengers and freight.”

Given that the first statement from Phillips didn’t specifically mention the Northlander, the newsroom asked specifically about the service. A statement from Rickford’s office was sent in reply.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to northern transportation in the 2019 Ontario Budget, with a focus on identifying opportunities for a modern, sustainable transportation system in Northern Ontario,” read the statement.

“Our government will continue to review northern transportation initiatives and options that meet the needs of people traveling in and across the North, including options for passenger rail and bus services. This is a vital piece of the government’s plan to promote economic development and keep people and goods moving in Northern Ontario.”

Rickford’s office clarified that the Northlander train would be one of those options in consideration.

An announcement about the business case for the train service is expected in November from Ontario Northland.

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